Rep. Jensen’s Reasons for HR-1171 are Worse than the “Sharia law” South Dakota Tries To Ban

Dear CF,

I wrote, in this post, about Phil Jensen’s bizarre little example justifying the need for the legislation in South Dakota that would expand “justifiable homicide” to (epiphenomenally) permit the murder of abortion providers.

(It’s worth noting, in their defense, that the 2 abortion providers there were back in 2008 are gone, and there are currently no abortion providers in the state—Planned Parenthood flies one in. So, hurrah! There are no abortion providers to kill, and the bill in practice threatens no one.)

Still, you might have been taken aback, as I was, by both the randomness and specificity of Rep. Jensen’s example. Here it is, once more:

“Say an ex-boyfriend who happens to be father of a baby doesn’t want to pay child support for the next 18 years, and he beats on his ex-girfriend’s abdomen in trying to abort her baby. If she did kill him, it would be justified.”

Let’s savor the weirdness of that phraseology for a moment: “He beats on his ex-girlfriend’s abdomen in trying to abort her baby.” How incidental the ex-girlfriend seems in all this—her abdomen, in this relation of the events, is just a layer. It’s a strange way to talk about a body. Were the ex-girlfriend to tell her story, would she be more likely to say “My boyfriend beat my abdomen trying to abort my baby?” Or would she say “My boyfriend beat me?”

Just for the sake of argument, let’s take a look at the only part of the Bible (Exodus 21:22) that deals with abortion. You might notice some striking similarities to Rep. Jensen’s example:

21: 22 If men strive, and hurt a woman with child, so that her fruit depart from her, and yet no mischief follow: he shall be surely punished, according as the woman’s husband will lay upon him; and he shall pay as the judges determine.
21:23 And if any mischief follow, then thou shalt give life for life,
21:24 Eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot,
21:25 Burning for burning, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.

Grim. Yet not as grim as Rep. Jensen’s example, which doesn’t seem to regard the woman’s abdomen as, well, hers.

The language of the bill has been revised to specify that only a pregnant woman can avail herself of this broader definition of “justifiable homicide,” but Rep. Jensen’s initial choice of example is telling. Several people have pointed out that the bill, as originally written, would allow a woman’s husband to kill her abortion provider, even if she had consented to the procedure. The situation he outlines is awfully close to that odd little moment in Exodus, except that it strips even more of her personhood away. More on that in a minute.

The Biblical echo might be a stretch. Who knows if Rep. Jensen even reads the Bible? Besides, if he does, it would be unfair to assume that he takes Old Testament law seriously enough to try to apply it (against all sense) to modern times. And even if he did somehow harbor a bizarre but idiosyncratic tendency to read his Bible literally, surely he wouldn’t allow his religious convictions to compromise his commitment to the American principle of separation of church and state. Right?

Unanswerable questions, one and all. Queen Elizabeth I observed that she couldn’t look into the hearts of her subjects; God help the woman who looks into the hearts of her politicians.

Still, there are some things we can now. For instance, Rep. Phil Jensen’s campaign materials from 2008 specify that he is “a hunter, a member of the SD Wildlife Federation, the National Rifle Association, Republican Ambassadors and Rimrock Evangelical Free Church.”

The Rimrock Evangelical Free Church believes lots of things. Here are two:

A. We believe the Scriptures, both Old and New Testament, to be the inspired Word of God, without error in the original writings, the complete revelation of His will for the salvation of men, and the Divine and final authority for all Christian faith and life. (II Timothy 3: 16,17)

K. We believe in the personal and premillennial and imminent coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and that this “Blessed Hope” has a vital bearing on the personal life and service of the believer. (Acts 1:11, Heb. 9:28, I Thessalonians 4:16, 17)

According to K., the church to which Phil Jensen belongs encourages its members to think of the “Blessed Hope” as permeating their personal life AND THEIR SERVICE. While service could technically mean any number of things, it’s conceivable that Rep. Jensen interprets that as a mandate to apply to implement his religious beliefs through his work in government. (Separation of church and state, sure, but God trumps America.)

And as for A? Rimrock’s profession that the Old Testament (and therefore Exodus) is the “inspired word of God” and error-free? Well, without knowing the extent of Rep. Phil Jensen’s involvement in this particular Church, it’s difficult to know how closely he adheres to their stated extremely literal interpretation of the Bible. (Apparently he and his wife are in charge of the Dance with Rimrockers group; and while you can judge that, you can’t tell much about his exegetical stance.)

What we can do is worry. And notice. And fight, like Mother Jones did. And realize that for all of South Dakota’s ridiculous efforts to “ban sharia law,” they’re in the process of implementing a peculiarly anti-American version of it under the auspices of a remarkably stupid model of Christianity.

I should mention here that Exodus 21:22 is cited widely by pro-choice Christians as well as anti-choice Christians, partly because it assigns a lower value to a fetus than to, say, the mother. The shift in value goes from financial to fatal: if the fetus dies, a fine is an appropriate punishment; if the woman dies, it’s a life for a life.

The debate persists because there are huge ambiguities in translation, number and meaning, many of which are very competently outlined here (a doc that ultimately favors the anti-choice position, by the way). Here’s the opening gambit:

W.C. Kaiser, in defending the use of OT [Old Testament]law for formulating Christian ethics, argues that many ethical questions of interest to the modern Christian are not addressed in the NT, but only in the Old.  “Where,” he asks, “will we obtain authoritative materials on the abortion question if the OT is not consulted?”1

Where indeed? Another interesting anti-choice treatments of the same passage is here.

The point is that even if Rep. Jensen is consciously or subconsciously channeling Exodus 21:22 as he gropes toward a justification for “justifiable homicide” in the name of “protecting life,” he’s getting the Bible wrong. He’s still regarding the woman as an insensible container, an abdomen that apparently has neither the interest nor the legal right to advocate for itself and needs a special law to protect its contents. (That “abdomen” already has that right by virtue of belonging to a person being assaulted, as I explained at greater length in my last post.)

As Rep. Jensen tries to frame the bill using what he thinks is a pro-woman example, he can’t help but betray his underlying motivation, which has little to do with their interests. This is a means of empowering women to kill their abusive ex-boyfriends in defense not of themselves, but of their fetuses.

This is worse than the Old Testament section he’s channeling.

Even Exodus 21:22, drawn from the Old Testament, HOME TO THE UNBELIEVABLE HORRORS OF JUDGES 19 (WHICH RIMROCK CHURCH PROFESSES TO TAKE AS “INSPIRED TRUTH” AND THE DIVINE WILL) assigns women more value than Rep. Jensen and the co-sponsors of HR-1171.

How does sharia law stack up against Rep. Jensen’s? Via:

Islam allows abortion to save the life of the mother because it sees this as the ‘lesser of two evils’ and there is a general principle in Sharia (Muslim law) of choosing the lesser of two evils.

Abortion is regarded as a lesser evil in this case because:

  • the mother is the ‘originator’ of the foetus
  • the mother’s life is well-established
  • the mother has duties and responsibilities
  • the mother is part of a family
  • allowing the mother to die would also kill the foetus in most cases

Speaking as a woman, Rep. Jensen? With all due respect, I’d take Sharia Law over yours.




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